Roundup – the Many Facets of the Port Said Tragedy in Egypt

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The soccer world sheds a tear for fans, players, and civilians that lost their lives in Egypt a few days ago. Many much better equipped media outlets and more knowledgeable folk reported on the incident and shared their thoughts. Here’s some of the essential reading:

Last Wednesday, in the Egyptian city of Port Said, fans of rival soccer clubs fought and 73 people were killed. It was pandemonium – players were also attacked. The police did next to nothing. Recently elected Parliamentary members blamed the military for allowing the violence to escalate. Many fear that the military will use the bloodshed as a pretext to justify “law and order” ordinances and stall the democratic transition. Others also blamed the security for not thoroughly frisking fans before allowing them to enter. The Egyptian league has since suspended operations. (NY Times)

James Dorsey points out that there was plenty of smoke before the fire. The two rival fans had clashed during the same game in the same stadium last year. Also, before the match, the rival fans tweeted hateful and threatening messages to one another. On a political scale, the well organized and often violent Egyptian fan clubs, known as ultras, have continued to oppose the military’s prominent role in Egyptian life. On the other hand, the Egyptian public has grown sick of protests and just wants a return to stability and economic growth. Dorsey asks – did the Military allow this violence to try and drive a wedge between the ultras and the public? (Turbulent World of Middle Eastern Soccer)

In light of the violence, protesters took to the streets throughout Egypt. Among them was Bob Bradley, the current coach of the Egyptian National Team, and his wife. Bradley’s show of solidarity was welcomed, and his remarks focused on his empathy with the victims’ families. Whether his comments were irritatingly apolitical or intelligently tactful, I’ll let you decide. (Dirty Tackle)

Sophia Azeb examines in depth the history of Al Ahly S.C., explains the Ultras movement and its anti-colonial beliefs, and ultimately concludes that the fighting in Egypt should not be labeled a “football riot.” In contrast to fascist Ultras in Europe, Al Ahly S.C. and other soccer groups consistently rejected the Mubarak strategy to use sport as dope for the masses. They have been pro-democratic reforms. Sadly, Mohamed Aboutrika, a player on the field and prominent public figure in the revolution that toppled Mubarak, was attacked and thereafter announced his retirement from soccer. Shortly after the violence, a truce¬† was made between supporters of Al Ahly and Zamalek, the supporters group of rival club Al-Masry. Obviously, there’s more at stake then just games and goals and kicks and fouls.¬† (Soccer Politics)

Two players for Al-Masry have noted the unusual inaction of the police. For example, one player who watched the game from a nearby cafe reported that he saw armed thugs walk by police. Conspicuously, the steel exit doors for Ahly supporters were locked shut. Several were trampled to death. Spectators claimed to have heard the police egging on the violent Al-Masry ultras. (Guardian)

Many commentators have speculated as to the role and action/inaction of the military. However, these conspiracies bring to mind “Two Sides of Perversion” by Slavoj Zizek. Basically, in our minds we strive to explain our existence by a divine entity. We attribute order to that entity. Nevertheless, we often overreach in our daily analysis, and project conclusions based upon circumstantial evidence. Many asserted similar conspiratorial claims against George W. Bush in the aftermath of 9/11. Obviously, the military needs to be held accountable for failing to control the violence. However, if we assume the military’s omnipotence in our own minds, if we ascribe nefarious superpowers to them, if we see the military’s hand in all aspects of life from our hearts to our minds, then the military has already planted the seeds of collective submission. (Slavoj Zizek)

Recently deceased former Czech President Vaclav Havel wrote an essay titled “Power of the Powerless.” At the time, he was an activist and his concern was the communist regimes that swept across Eastern Europe. He noted that the greatest power of dictatorships was civic isolationism. Fear, distrust, and separation allowed regimes to splinter the civilian population. Nobody trusted their neighbor. Anybody could be a spy. However, this fog of fear masked the harsh reality: an impotent state that could never truly defeat an informed and united population. Thus, Vaclav called for the formation of informal civilian associations, based on hobbies. His belief was that these interactions would build bonds of trust among citizens, tearing at the heart of the dictatorships’ fear-mongering. As applied to Egypt, the Ultras (and online social communications) played a large role in the protests and bringing down Mubarak. The great threat now is that the military will dissolve those associations, fear will prevail, and democracy will suffer. (Vaclav Havel)

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4 thoughts on “Roundup – the Many Facets of the Port Said Tragedy in Egypt

  1. “In contrast to fascist Ultras in Europe, Al Ahly S.C. and other soccer groups consistently rejected the Mubarak strategy to use sport as dope for the masses”

    Fascist ultras in Europe?

  2. David,

    I’m not sure if I properly detected irony, but yes, lots of ultras in Italy and Germany have uber fascist leanings. In European Europe it’s even worse.

    • Do you mean “eastern Europe”?
      Yeah,the correct term about them is that are more racists than fasists.
      But,in Italy as well in Germany the “official way” of the ultras groups is the “no politica” way.Of course,in this term they consider that all humans are equal.
      Of course there are ultras groups all over Europe that they behave with racist violence and they promote fasist politics (i.e. “Ultras Sur” in Madrid, “boulogne Boys” in Paris.)

      Cheers by -under “troika” occupied- Athens

      p.s. ultras groups in Greece last months demonstrate the disagreement with the financial measures